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Gotham Central Vol. 2: Half a Life
Review by James W. Powell

Story
Gotham Central: Half a Life Review Cover Image
Gotham Central Vol. 2: Half a Life

Story
Greg Rucka
 
Pencils
Michael Lark
 
Colors
Matt Hollingsworth
 
Letters
Willie Schubert

Publisher
DC Comics
 
Format
Softcover Collection
 
Publish Date
May 25, 2005
 
Cover Price
$14.99
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

It's disheartening to think that potential fans of Gotham Central might be overlooking these great stories for what seems to be conflicting reasons. Fans of Batman may overlook the series because the Dark Knight doesn't play a prominent roll. At the same time, non-superhero fans may fear that the Bat's presence overshadows the possibility of creating the realism these dark stories need to truly thrive. But let's face it, Gotham Central should be on any crime drama fan's must-read list. From issue #1, this dectective's tale has been nearly flawless, and the second volume is some of the best this under-appreciated title has to offer.

In Gotham Central Vol. 2: Half a Life (which collects issues 6-10), readers a thrust into the world of Renee Montoya, a detective in the Major Crime Unit of the Gotham City Police Department. But we don't see just her devotion to protecting the citizens of Gotham, we see her personal trials and triumphs, too. When the department discovers that she's a lesbian, friends (and family) begin to turn on her. And if dealing with jokes from her teammates isn't bad enough, her reputation is put on the line when clues at a crime scene point her way.

Greg Rucka creates such a detailed world, it's impossible not to be drawn into this story. Every character has his or her own personality. Even more importantly, they have a history. Rucka doesn't explain the history, it's just there. These officers interact with each other as if they've worked with one another for years. And it's their word play — their petty arguments about inconsequential things or the crude names they have for each other — that adds much needed detail that fully immerses the reader into the story.

But if you want detail, look no further then the key scene involving Montoya and her brother. When he tells her that their parents don't understand and actually hate her lifestyle, their interaction gets heated. And as their words are raised into yells, their speech switches from English to their native language. Many people who speak two languages understand that it's natural to slip into using the speech you grew up with. And although it's a minor detail that is most likely overlooked by most readers, it's still a detail adds credibility to these characters and their story.

There are really two stories at play in Half a Life. The first is the action element that moves the plot forward: Montoya being set up and charged by her own teammates. The other, of course, is her frustration and stress from dealing with being forced out of the closet. Rucka handles both plots perfectly. Neither story is sugar coated; this is reality. The two stories are separate, yet they combine to form a cohesive whole. They weave around each other, the tension of one building off of the other until the boiling pot of emotion is about to explode.

It's this building emotion that sets Gotham Central from many other would be gritty detective comics on the stands today. After watching Montoya deal with her family, I felt like I knew her. And understanding these characters is paramount to a story like this. When it's time for the final showdown, the climax where both the action and the emotion collide, it's satisfying because we were a part of the story all along.

NOTE: This volume of Gotham Central is easily accesible to new readers. While reading the first volume, In the Line of Duty, might add some layer of detail to this story, doing so is not essential.

Art

Gotham Central: Half a Life Review Interior ImageWhat can I say? Lark is the master. He creates some of the most dark, gritty images. Each panel is noir at its best. But you know what makes this art stand out? The subtleties. Lark throws almost imperceptible nuances into each panel that makes each shot lifelike. Whether it's the slight tilt of the head, or a thinly veiled smirk, I understand exactly how every character is feeling from moment to moment. Each character comes to life with a personality all his own, and thus, the story's emotion is amped up just one more level.

Add Matt Hollingsworth's colors, and each scene can be felt physically as well as emotionally. It's as if you're standing right there with the characters. I can smell the smoke in the musky bar. I can feel the dark night penetrate my skin, leaving me cold to the core. I can feel the tension in the interrogation room. It's all palpable. It's all real.

Just what a dark story like this needs — characterization and emotion conveyed through subtle gestures, and then compounded with moody colors that set the tone even more firmly. It couldn't be better.

Bonus Features

There are several very valuable extra features in this volume of Gotham Central, but depending on how you look at it, they might not even be bonus items. The first is a heart-felt introduction by author Greg Rucka who details his history with Det. Montoya. Then at the end of the collection, you'll find reprinted covers of each story.

Of course, the real meat of the bonus features comes in the form of two short stories. While the don't tie directly into the "Half a Life" storyline, they do indeed add insight and deepen the characterization of the story. The first short is "Two Down," a tale originally published in Batman Chronicles #16. The story, written by Rucka with art by Jason Pearson and Cam Smith, focuses on Montoya the days after the earthquake that hit Gotham just before No Man's Land. Montoya enters into an almost surreal relationship with Two-Face, who goes on a string of good deeds after watching his coin turn up time after time.

The second story reprinted here, "Happy Birthday Two You...", again focuses on Two-Face and Montoya. This one, however, features more of a mystery and detective work. Written by Rucka with art by William Rosario and Steve Mitchell, this story was taken from Detective Comics #747.

Both shorts are worthy diversions in and of themselves, but the real reward comes toward the end of "Half a Life" when it's necessary to understand Montoya's connection to Harvey Dent. Without reading these stories, "Half a Life" is still be a great read, but having read these additional tales,the ending is much more emotional and rewarding.

Final Words

This is one of the best story arcs to come from the pages of Gotham Central. And that's saying a lot since each issue sets the bar pretty high for its peers. The tale is both an emotional journey, and one of suspense and drama, thanks in no small part to the incredibly moody art. Plus, the story is accessible to new readers, can be enjoyed by Batman fans and non-spandex fans alike. If you're into detective novels, or dark, gritty suspense, there's really no reason why you should skip this book.

Highest Possible Recommendation


James has written for such fine web sites as DVDtalk, Broken Frontier, and Paperback Reader. He lives in Denver with his lovely wife and two cats who wake him up at 3 a.m.
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